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TRACK LIST: 1. High Tide Last 7:06 2. Fighter Command 10:44 3. The Road Much Further On 8:39 4. Sky Flying on Fire 6:05 5. Pell Mell 6:36 6. Powder Monkey 9:08 7. Gathering Speed 7:23 All tracks: by Big-Big Train. LINE-UP: Gregory Spawton - guitars; keyboards; vocals Andy Poole - basses Steve Hughes - drums Ian Cooper - keyboards Seen Pilkins - vocals; percussion; harp With: Laura Murch - vocalizations (on a few tracks) Produced by Poole, Spawton, & R. Aubrey. Engineered by Poole & R. Aubrey in "The Garden Room", UK.
Prolusion. Less than two years passed since the band's very promising previous effort, >"Bard", and Big-Big Train is back again - with their fourth official output "Gathering Speed". Which is also a positive sign, as before they released albums quite infrequently - once in four years, on average. The other Big-Big Train albums are: "Goodbye to the Edge of Steam" (1994) and "English Boy Wonders" (1998).
Synopsis. Now, that I've already become familiar with the material, I'd like above all to mention that my most significant complaint about it concerns the replacement of Tony Muller with another singer, Seen Pilkins, no offence intended. Seen is an excellent vocalist with a wide voice diapason, but his voice sounds not unlike Jon Anderson. Why? (I doubt that it was done by the band's urgent request, and some of the further contents of the review will 'support' me in that supposition.) Any intonation of the man's vocals will immediately remind you of Yes's legendary singer, you may be sure! Unfortunately, the instrumentalists sometimes follow Seen, while two songs were as if especially written for him and his passion. These are Fighter Command and The Road Much Further (2 & 3), the first of which is diverse in tempo and mood, and the other is mostly atmospheric. Both are very good on the whole, but they sound like Small-Small Yes rather than Big-Big Train. Regarding "Small-Small", it's a joke, of course. So to be more objective, I will express some more thoughts, even if they may seem to be contradictory. Fighter Command, which I perceive as a simplified version of Round About and the likes, is a bit more to my taste than The Road Much Further, which, in its turn, is much better (and is even more feeling) than Wondrous Stories and some other Yes songs from the second half of the seventies. OK, Yes never used a harmonica, which is one of the leading instruments on Fighter Command, but the overall musical picture of the song doesn't change because of that. Also, I can't take a harmonica in the context of progressive music, at least as a soloing instrument. Thankfully, the instrumental parts on the other five tracks are either mostly or completely original, and the music represents a full-fledged classic symphonic Art-Rock woven of a wide variety of electric, acoustic and mixed textures. Tastefulness and virtuosity would probably be the key words to describe the parts of each instrument used on the album: bass, electric and acoustic guitars, drums, and various, including vintage, keyboards. Among the remaining four songs: High Tide Last, Powder Monkey, Pell Mell, and the album's title track (1, 6, 5, & 7 respectively), the first two contain two different types of lead vocal, one of which is still Anderson-like, and the other is original, rather low (probably by Spawton). Of course, I would have preferred to hear the latter everywhere on the album. Thus, High Tide Last and Powder Monkey are my favorite songs. However, the central highlight of "Gathering Speed" is the only instrumental composition on it: the 6-minute Sky Flying on Fire (4). This is a wonderful gem, the excellent example of Classic Symphonic Progressive, just shining with its originality and ever-changing arrangements. This is what I would like the new Big-Big Train album would be entirely about.
Conclusion. With regard to composition and performance, the band took a gigantic step forward on their fourth album, which, in this respect, is much better than anything they created before. I don't like to repeat myself again, but it's inevitable. Instrumentally, "Gathering Speed" is more than an excellent album, but Seen Pilkins 'does' Jon Anderson so openly that I sometimes think I should have deprived the album of the whole star, and not a half of it as I did.
VM: April 12, 2004
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